Topic ClustersA business’ #1 priority is to make a profit. You have to grab the attention of your customers, convince them you have the best solution for the problem they’re trying to fix, and bring them to your brand.

In today’s digital age, this process often happens online. Businesses invest in paid ads, build their social media presence, and publish content that customers will find as they take to search engines with their inquiries.

However, as more and more businesses take to the internet, search engines such as Google have found it increasingly difficult to distinguish reputable, relevant results to present to searchers. They’ve begun to change the way they rank websites, transforming the face of SEO as we know it. As a business owner, it’s vital that you understand these changes. After all, you don’t want to be left in your competitors’ dust now, do you?

How Was SEO Done Before?

In the past, all you had to do was follow a simple checklist to make sure that your content was optimized. Blog posts needed a unique keyword you’ve never used before (lest you wind up with your own content competing against itself.) Google would look for that keyword in the body of your content, the URL, the title and description of your blog, as well as in the image tags.

This was considered to be a well-optimized post; the more of these posts you had, the more likely Google was to deem you a “reputable” source and bump you up in search results.

Why Are Things Changing?

The short answer is this: because everyone is doing it.

Search engines see countless businesses claiming to be the “authority” on a topic, and using every keyword under the sun to prove that.

Additionally, the way that people search is changing. We used to type in fragmented search queries, like “laundromat Philadelphia”, “Ambler landscaper”, or “daycare in Delaware County”. With the advent of voice searches, our queries have turned into conversation-like sentences. “Okay Google, where is the closest laundromat?” “Hey Siri, who is the best landscaper in Ambler?” “Alexa, what are the top daycares in Delaware County?” This only makes coming up with relevant keywords all the more challenging.

For example, let’s say you own a catering company in Philadelphia called Philly’s Best Caterer, with your website at phillysbestcaterer.com. You offer some of the best food in the region, and cater weddings, birthday parties, corporate events, showers, holiday gatherings, and more. You have a working blog, where you publish about new menu additions, awards you’ve won, and recent events you’ve had the privilege of catering.

What types of keywords do you use? Obviously, “Philadelphia caterer” and “catering company in Philadelphia” were among the first to go. As you publish post after post, all of a sudden your blog is flooded with every possible variation of keywords you can come up with: Philadelphia catering company, catering in Philadelphia, wedding caterer in Philadelphia, best birthday caterer in Philly…..the list goes on and on.

Rather than establishing yourself as a reputable caterer with a well-optimized website, Google sees you as just another jumble of keywords. They won’t know which of your pages deserves a higher rank, and they won’t recognize you as the authority you want to be. That means they’ll move on to your competitors and work to boost their content, causing you to lose business…all because you did what you thought you were supposed to, instead of what you should be doing now.

So…What Should I Be Doing Now?

Fortunately, there’s hope. While the path might be time-consuming, the end result will send your website skyrocketing up the ranks of Google searches.

It’s called “topic clustering”. Hubspot has recently championed this method, and they’re already reaping the benefits of it.

What are topic clusters? Let’s go back to the caterer example to explain. Instead of coming up with every keyword or keyphrase combination under the sun, it’s best to identify the most important topics you want to address as a caterer. In this case, the most prudent approach might be to break the blog up into three topics: Wedding Catering, Party Catering, and Corporate Catering.

These three topics are called “pillars”. Your blog page should be broken down into these three pillar pages, with relevant blogs published only on their corresponding page. This will cause each blog post to have your pillar keyword in the URL. Thus, your three pillar pages would be found at phillysbestcaterer.com/blog/wedding-catering, phillysbestcaterer.com/blog/party-catering, and phillysbestcaterer.com/blog/corporate-catering.

As you assign each blog post to its corresponding pillar, you can give each post its own long-tailed keyphrase. These posts are called “cluster content”. Every single blog post about a recently catered wedding will have its own keyphrase, but will also tie back to the pillar keyword “Wedding Catering”. Be sure that a hyperlink redirecting back to the pillar page is included in the cluster page, to keep guests cycling through your content and remaining on your page for as long as possible.

How Is This Different Than The Old SEO Plan?

Google can now view your website in a whole new light. Instead of a click on your blog post tying back only to that post’s specific keyword or keyphrase, Google can now tie every single blog post click back to its pillar page’s keyword.

Additionally, since you’ve hyperlinked each blog post pack to its pillar page, users are more likely to revert back to it. Someone performing a search for “what to look for in a wedding caterer” will land on your blog post with that very keyphrase. As they read through your post, they come across a hyperlink that says, “Click here for more information on finding the perfect wedding caterer for you.” One click redirects them to your Wedding Catering pillar page, which is filled with relevant content they can peruse for hours.

Google sees this. Part of their ranking process is whether people bounce from your page right away (an indicator that they aren’t finding what they’re looking for) versus lingering and making their way through your site. Not only will this boost your ranking and establish you as an authority with your audience, but it will lead to more traffic and, ultimately, more conversions.

Search engines now sees you as more than a jumble of keywords. They see you as an authority in the fields of “wedding catering”, “party catering”, and “corporate catering.” Which will find your website ranking higher and higher as people search for a Philly caterer who can service their particular event.

Again, this is a time-consuming task, especially if you’ve already got dozens of blog posts published. But, the end result is worth it. There are even a number of tools you can use to make the process easier, including Topic Cluster Keyword Research Templates, a Content Strategy Tool, and more.

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Audrey Thomas is a content marketing associate at Sweet Rose Studios.